Wednesday, April 2, 2008

3 a.m. fantasy
I've seen the lights go out on Broadway
I saw the Empire State laid low.
And life went on beyond the Palisades, ...

We held a concert out in Brooklyn
To watch the Island bridges blow...
The worst way to celebrate a birthday is to finish the bottle, with music and Brie.

In the early hours, the mind is wide awake, and speculative...


The time came when the capitalist world was fully wired. We all had instant messaging, super-Blackberries, iPhones Mk 3. We no longer needed to go into the office.

We no longer needed an office.

What we were not prepared for was the suddenness of it all. There was this "tipping point"; and that was it.

Rents in the central business zones collapsed. A brief flurry of converting the buildings to hôtels and "loft"-apartments was too late: the life and purposes had gone out of the city-centres, and with it the need for accommodating the drones of capitalism. Very soon, the tourists tired of the tattiness and tackyness that was left behind. The notion of visiting "attractions" seemed very passé, and -- the ultimate dismissal -- very "Twentieth Century".

The city authorities were no longer afford to maintain the infra-structures. Power was cut off. For a while, litter blew along the concrete canyons. Then the weeds took hold. Soon after that, bits began to fall off: the streets and avenues were no longer safe. A final patrol prowled the neighbourhood, left, and locked the gates behind them. Behind the barricades, silence took over, broken by the rumble of a building surrendering to neglect and decay.

Outside, life went on, happier and more compact. Suburbs became interlocking villages. Villages and small towns flourished.

We became content with our lot, and stayed put upon it. Joyce had claimed that, if Dublin were destroyed, it could be recreated from his books. Virtual reality drama did just that: at the touch of a remote-control, it could be June 16, 1904 any day, anywhere. If we wanted to see Venice, we could be guided aboard a Vaparetto by Francesco da Mosto, or walk the sestieri with fictional Guido Brunetti. No smells, no mosquitos, no hordes of tourists, from the comfort of one's own sofa.

In consequence, something else, something quite astonishing happened. Energy consumption dropped. We no longer needed the huge electricity plants that had lit, warmed and driven the megalopolis. The robotic factories, which replaced manual labour, provided for our needs, more efficiently, more accurately, more humanely even, than before.

Nor was there mass unemployment. Two main industries took up the spare capacity: health-and-welfare, education-and-leisure.

In another way, time went into reverse.

There was a second agricultural, or rather horticultural revolution. Small-holding and gardening became something more than a hobby. The village market-day returned, selling (or, more frequently, bartering) surplus to ready buyers. People had time for society and a social circle. Others opted to retreat further into the depths of a quieter, boskier countryside. With e-communication the norm, that was not isolation, except by choice, however.

Conservation gave way to frugality, as a philosophy of make-do-and-mend became something of an art-form. The scent of wood-smoke became universal, as copses were systematically harvested as part of the new order. Domestic appliances and cars achieved new longevities, into their second or third decade, cosseted by the local Jane-and-Jim repair shops (another of those many craft industries that sprang up). If all else failed, another Jane-and-Jim ran Rent-a-Wreck to keep you going while heavy repairs and rebuilds happened.

Cars were frequently cannibalised, or were repaired from the scrap-yard. It became a badge of honour not to repaint, so multi-coloured bodywork became the norm, rust-brown the favoured tone. Other forms of transport proliferated: the bicycle, even the pony-and-trap. After all, when horizons shrank to the local townland, what more was necessary? The one constant was the Jack Russell or the lolloping Labrador in the back seat.

It would take longer for the "global-warming" effect to reverse, but the indicators were positive. Populations gently aged and declined.

The western world had passed into a fourth phase. From basic survival to the age of exploration and discovery. Then to hectic industrialisation and the urban lifestyle. And now to a new phase of individualism and self-awareness. Development became something internal and personal. Mental health improved dramatically, alongside a whirl of local involvement, spiritual and intellectual life. Children were cherished.

So, was it all better? More comfortable, less fraught, certainly. More balanced. Even more human and humane. Sphere: Related Content

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